Neil D’Souza and Ben Webster have spent the past six years working on a dream at the speed of sound.
Crystal-clear, better-than-stereo sound that is.
The co-founders of Toronto start-up Mass Fidelity are revolutionizing how audiophiles around the globe experience their favourite playlists on their smart devices courtesy of their high-tech, wireless speaker system called the Core.
“It’s like virtual reality for audio,” explains D’Souza, “What’s unique about our technology is acoustic rendering which creates the illusion of two widely-spaced speakers – a fancy way of saying we make it sound better.”
In true Canadian fashion, technological innovation is powering the company, which was originally founded in 2007 and focused on analogue audio products, before it pivoted to digital audio products in 2012. Since then, Mass Fidelity released the first consumer speaker utilizing DSPs (Digital Sound Processors) with ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) architecture to create a multi-dimensional, holographic sound image called an acoustic bubble – which provides a user experience equivalent to listening to two high-end speakers.
“You don’t need two speakers to get stereo sound anymore,” D’Souza says. “With the Core, you can listen to your favourite piece of music and you will think it’s a different recording because you will actually hear an instrument that you’ve never heard playing in it before.”
A major instrument in the company’s recent growth from three to 20 employees within the past year, as well as becoming a global success story, is a 2014 crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo that helped finance development of the Core and its accompanying sound-enhancing subwoofer. The company’s Relay product, an ultra-high fidelity, Bluetooth digital-to-audio analog converter (DAC), was already being sold in North American and European markets when it received the welcome investment boost.
Mass Fidelity surpassed its overall goal of raising $48,000 US the first day on Indiegogo, reaching a total $1.5 million from more than 4,800 backers. It generated another $1 million in pre-sales before the company started delivering the Core to customers in 102 countries late last year.
“It was a game changer for us,” admits D’Souza, a pianist since the age of four who admits to playing air piano when he listens to his favourite playlist on his own Core. “Not only did it surpass all of our (financial) expectations, but we literally became global, over night.”
Today, the majority of sales are generated from the company’s e-commerce store, but that is rapidly shifting to retail stores as it develops more partnerships and distribution channels around the world. “We are literally shipping everywhere around the world,” D’Souza says. “But I expect traditional bricks and mortar will become the generator of the majority of sales in the future. With a speaker like this, people need to hear it and test it out to fully understand its value — not just from the reviews you read online.”
Mass Fidelity is headquartered in Toronto and currently has a satellite office in Montreal with regional sales offices in Seattle, New Jersey, London and Hong Kong, and distributors all over Europe.
The U.S. is the main destination of the company’s exports, due to proximity as well as the size of the consumer electronics market – according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the industry has a $224-billion consumer appetite.
Along the way, Mass Fidelity has been learning how to overcome the many challenges with going global, including navigating the maze of varying regulations, tax rules, foreign exchange, linguistic issues around packaging and marketing and legal requirements.
“You really need to understand the complexities of exporting and don’t bite off more than you can chew,” D’Souza says. “It’s critical to focus on markets that can generate the best return, as well as operate within the logistical constraints of your own company. It’s simply not possible to start a business in a global marketplace with a whole bunch of different rules, regulations, currencies and languages unless you can find markets that fit your existing model to some extent.”
He adds that success in the export business also requires research and the development of key partnerships in critical markets, to save both time and money.
“Even if you have the right amount of money, trying to set up a sales organization or a support organization in a foreign country is very uneconomical in the early days,” adds D’Souza. “So it’s better to form a local partnership either with a sales rep or local distributor and then provide them with what they need to succeed. That’s the route that we took.”
To continue on its successful course, Mass Fidelity will focus on staying ahead of the competition and developing the Core into a household name.
“Our dream is to see the Core in the majority of living rooms around the world,” D’Souza admits. “We want to develop a brand where Mass Fidelity becomes known for delivering the future of audio. Our ideas for our future products include technology and features people won’t believe are possible.”